Tag Archives: freedom of religion

Legislator: If prayer bill passes, “[Kids] could say whatever they want. That scares me.”


Opponents of a Florida bill say it would allow kids to deliver “Satanic messages” at school events. Photo by Flickr user allthecolor.

The prayer-in-schools debate has revived in Florida, where a bill that would allow students to deliver “inspirational messages” at school events has passed the house and senate and awaits the vote of Gov. Rick Scott.

According to the Washington Post, Scott “hasn’t promised to sign the bill, but he did say this: ‘I haven’t seen the bill, but I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.'”

However, some have pointed out that the law would permit students to include “Satanic messages” in school alongside those of other faiths. One such detractor was Democratic Rep. Jeff Clemons, who read from the “Aryan Satanic Manifesto.” He then asked Rep. Charles Van Zant, who supports the law, if the passage was inspirational.

“That would be the students’ prerogative because of our constitutional freedom of speech,” Van Zant replied.

The Sunshine Sentinel stated:

While supporters are largely viewed as trying to open up a channel for school prayer, both sides in the debate agree it could also allow messages that include Holocaust denial, racially-charged speeches, uncomfortable beliefs of some fringe religions or endorsements of sex and drugs… If backers of the bill want students to be able to give Christian prayers as an inspirational message, they have to be prepared for Satanic, Muslim and other messages.

“They could say whatever they want,” said Rep. Marty Kiar. “That scares me.”

I’m not sure if this is genuine sentiment, or a last-ditch effort to make this bill fail. In either case, it comes down to a few things: One, some legislators are afraid of the beliefs and statements of people who follow Satanism and other religions they consider “fringe.” (By the way, it’s worth stating that Aryan Satanism is not the only kind — it’s not even the most popular kind.) Two, they’re willing to restrict the free-speech rights of citizens in order to quell this fear, just because the citizens in this case happen to be minors. And three, this is apparently their most potent argument against allowing “inspirational” religious messages in schools.

I’m not a proponent of prayer in school, but for once, I find myself siding with those who are.

What do you think? Would this bill allow Satanist kids to have their say? And would that be a bad thing?

ACLU sues library for filtering “occult” Web sites


Netsweeper, used in schools and libraries, filters out Web content related to Wicca or Native American faiths.

Anaka Hunter, a resident of Salem, Missouri, went to her local public library and attempted to do some Internet research about Native American spiritualities. She was astounded when she found that Web sites with that kind of content were blocked by the Internet-filtering software used by the library, Netsweeper.

When Hunter complained to the head librarian, she was told that the library had no control over what ideas were blocked by Netsweeper. She complained to the library’s board of directors, but they blew her off. So she took it to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is now suing the city of Salem, the city’s library system, and the library board.

All three are being charged with “unconstitutionally blocking access to websites discussing minority religions by improperly classifying them as ‘occult’ or ‘criminal,'” according to the ACLU.

As I’ve mentioned before, net-filtering software is notorious for trying to make minority faiths of all kinds invisible. Earlier this year, Gainesville students complained when they discovered they couldn’t look up information on Falun Dafa/Falun Gong. I figured it wouldn’t be long before the ACLU got involved.

Interestingly, Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt points out that ‘net-filtering software can trace its origins to the Christian market. This selfsame software was then sold to schools, libraries, and other publicly funded agencies — where such discrimination is much more of a sticky wicket.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. In the meantime, readers, how would you feel if your religious beliefs were blacked out by Internet-filtering software used in schools, libraries, etc.? Are there any such religions you think should be made invisible to the kids and adults using public terminals?

Knox exonerated, but Satanism remains on trial


Amanda Knox: still not a “She-Devil,” and never was.

As Amanda Knox — who was wrongly jailed in Italy for four years — gets ready for her first Christmas in freedom in many years, new details about her case reveal there was essentially no evidence against her. Including no evidence that she was involved in “Satanic orgies” the night her roommate, Meredith Kercher, was murdered.

The appeals court that exonerated Knox released an 143-page report this week uncovering just how badly the lower court bungled the trial. “No murder weapon. Faulty DNA. No motive. Even the time of death was wrong by nearly an hour. The Italian appeals court that cleared Amanda Knox in the killing of her roommate explained its ruling on Thursday: The evidence just didn’t hold up,” according to the Associated Press.

In short, the report finds that the original verdict:

… Was not corroborated by any objective element of evidence and in itself was not, in fact probable: the sudden choice of two young people, good and open to other people, to do evil for evil’s sake, just like that, without another reason. It is not, therefore, sufficient that the probability of the prosecutors’ hypothesis is greater than the hypothesis of the defense, not even when they are notably greater in number, but it is necessary that every explanation that differs from the prosecutors’ hypothesis is, according to the criteria of reasonability, not at all plausible.

We can probably also presume that Knox is also not a “Satanic, Diabolic, She-Devil,” as one prosecutor put it.

After her Italian nightmare, Knox must contend with many things: the fact that she was separated from society for four years for a crime she didn’t commit; the fact that she was so boldly convicted in the press; and the fact that her sexual life and supposed “Satanic” inclinations were the stuff of international headlines — even though none of those suggestions were true.

Deeper than that, though, is the troubling idea that simply being involved with Satanism or the occult makes you de facto guilty of violence, regardless of other factors. We’ve seen this again and again, most troublingly with with the West Memphis Three, who spent half their lives in jail for murders they did not commit — all because people in their small southern town figured if a boy wears black and practices Wicca, he must be an evil child-slayer. All an unscrupulous attorney has to do is raise the “Satanic” flag and his case is as good as won. When you step back and look at it, that’s not a very impressive lawyering technique, is it?

And yet, it keeps working — and will keep working, as long as people continue to fear and misunderstand practicing occultists. Who, as much as any other religious group, are respectful, peaceful, law-abiding people.

Christmas sign might force parents to explain their belief in Satan to their children


Jackie Blevins’ Christmas lights, and their unorthodox message, are making his Tennessee neighbors angry. Photo by Tim Davis.

Humans have a variety of responses to rejection. Some withdraw. Some tell themselves they’re better off anyway. Some get revenge. And some, apparently, put up Christmas lights with Satanic messages in them. That’s what Jackie Blevins did, and his neighbors in Carter County, Tennessee, aren’t so happy.

The message reads: “The Devil’s Inn rules. Closed until Judgement Day. Satan Satan hear my plea. Satan Satan come to me.”

Here’s how Blevins explained the whole thing to a WCYB reporter:

“[I] put this sign up here on the building because of what has happened right here,” Blevins said as he pointed to cars he refinished with skulls and devil’s horns.

Blevins told News 5 his cars were banned from area car shows, and in response he built the sign as a way of showing his anger.

While his decorative choices may rub some people the wrong way, he tells News 5, it’s just his personal form of expression. “It is my freedom of speech, my freedom of religion for these cars out here. They don’t mean nothing. They’re just a chunk of lousy metal,” Blevins explained.

But some folks who live nearby are upset with the message:

“I was just horrified, horrified,” Deborah Jones said of the first time she saw the sign. “Knowing that a child could ask a parent is Satan really there? Is Satan in his home? What is a parent supposed to say to a child?”

… I would assume that a parent in that position would answer in accordance with his or her beliefs. If you don’t believe in Satan, say so. If you do, explain who he is, what his background is, and how you (and other people of your faith) feel about him. Why someone would spend so much time and energy on a figure like the Devil, and yet be unwilling to discuss those feelings with a curious child? In either case, it’s also a good time to discuss the First Amendment, and the freedom to speak out and to practice whatever faith makes you happy.

Someone else has already beat me to blogging about this. You can read a more Christian take over at Fellowship of the Minds. The comments are particularly interesting.

“Satanic” singer booted from Polish reality TV show


Adam Darski, who performs as Nergal with the Polish metal band Behemoth, tears pages from a Bible. Photo by Flickr user mithrandir3.

Last month, I championed Polish metal singer Nergal, AKA Adam Darski, for appearing on a popular reality television show despite pressure from Polish Catholics that he be removed. Unfortunately, TVP, the broadcaster which airs Polish television show The Voice of Poland, yanked Darski from the program last week.

Recently, Darski was exonerated of “offending religious feeling” — a charge stemming from a performance in which he tore up a Bible on stage. A Polish judge said the act was a protected form of expression, and that Darski had not broken any laws. He recently earned more scorn for an onstage performance in which he dressed as a priest and “healed” several musicians from another band, all of whom were sitting in wheelchairs.

Following the Oct. 1 “healing,” TVP Chairman Juliusz Braun described the incident as “provocative behaviour, showing a lack of respect not only for religious beliefs, but also for illnesses and the disabled.”

Braun did not wait for another court challenge. Last week his station announced, “Adam Darski, aka Nergal, will not be given his own programme on TVP, nor will he be a juror in a second series of Voice of Poland, even if the network decides to commission one [a second series],” said spokesperson for TVP, Joanna Stempien-Rogalinska. Darski will appear in already-taped episodes, which will continue into December.

Poland has a longstanding tradition of freedom of religion — and is brand-new to freedom of speech — so it’s a shame that Darski’s theatrics would cost him a job. Even though he legally has the right to criticize religious institutions in this way (which has already been proven in court), apparently different rules apply when you’re a television star. What a message to send to Poland’s minority religions, and to the people who practice them in good faith.

Did Darski go too far with his staged “healing?” Should he — or other Thelemites and Satanists — be forbidden from appearing on television?

Religious leaders see monsters — in teens


Does vampire fiction make teens more likely to commit evil crimes? Some seem to think so. Photo by Flickr user drurydrama (Len Radin).

Halloween is coming soon, and people are already seeking spooks.

Specifically, adults in religious communities around the world think they’re seeing monsters — in teenagers.

In South Africa, a foster teen’s parents discovered some of her poetry and sketchbooks and are now convinced that the 14-year-old has a secret double life with a Satanic cult. Because that’s the first thing that leaps to mind, right? In one sketch, the girl drew Jesus on the cross and then wrote, “He lied/He cried/He died.” On another page, a poem reads:

Lucifer was here and now he is gone.
Maybe we should try and just carry on.
The devil is cool, he is fly.
The beast is the apple of his eye.
Satan is our king and he wears the crown.
And he ain’t letting us walk with a frown…”

(I had to check and make sure these aren’t song lyrics. As far as I can tell, they aren’t.)

When the girl’s foster mother found the diaries — apparently while the girl was away — her assumption was that the girl is part of a Satanic cult. Her response? She took them to the local newspaper, which then turned the poor girl’s diaries over to a minister for examination. It starts out well enough:

“She feels very rejected and it’s normal for young people to try and find their identity,” [Father Mike Williams] says, paging through the books.

Oh, but then he had to go on…

“Even though one can see she’s already delved deep into this whole thing, this doesn’t mean that she’s possessed.

“We must see if she has given her soul to the devil or took part in a black mass.”

… What??

It is, as Williams points out, totally natural for teens to begin questioning Christianity, if it’s the religion they were raised with. Some come back; some don’t. Since many teens are vulnerable to black-and-white thinking, they sometimes combine that questioning with an exploration of the polar opposite — in this case, Satanism. Sometimes it’s an honest exploration of faith. Sometimes it’s a way to draw concern from parents who might not be paying attention in the way a teen craves.

Foster children are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress disorder, abandonment issues, and depression. According to one study, 60 percent of former foster kids suffered signs of depression. To me, the drawings and poems from this South African girl sound like the product of loneliness and perhaps depression — but not “Satanic cult” activity. Her mother should consider finding her some counseling, not an exorcist.

Such suspicions are not restricted to South Africa, however. In a recent article published in several Christian newspapers, Thomas Horn (author of books such as The Gods Who Walk Among Us and Invisible Invasion) goes on at length about teen vampire and werewolf fiction. The article, penned by Eryn Sun, draws links between such fiction and a handful of crimes in which young people pretended to be vampires.

Before we get into that, let’s look at some of the bizarre things Horn has to say:

“Psychologists have long understood how women in general desire strength in men, but few could have imagined how this natural and overriding need by young ladies would be used in modern times to seduce them of their innocence using mysteriously strong yet everlastingly damned creatures depicted in popular books and films like Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse.”

I can barely get past the sexism in this quote, but I’ll try: he’s saying that women’s need for strong men somehow makes them crave vampire fiction in which the men in question are powerful vampires. At least, I think that’s what he’s saying.

But then Sun uses these examples to illustrate Horn’s point:

Just a few months ago, a 19-year-old in Texas, claiming to have been a 500-year-old vampire needing to be fed, broke into a woman’s home, threw her against the wall, and tried to suck her blood.

Another instance in Florida involved a teenage girl who was charged along with four others for beating a 16-year-old to death. They were part of a purported vampire cult, with one teenage girl calling herself a vampire/werewolf hybrid.

Where are the girls craving powerful, vampiric men in these examples?

Oh, Horn does go on, arguing that modern horror fiction is different from that of the past, because the new monsters are “impervious to Christ’s power.” In turn, that means young readers and viewers “have exchanged yesterday’s pigtails and pop-guns for pentagrams and blood covenants aligned with forces far stronger than former generations could have imagined.” I’m not sure how many Twilight and True Blood viewers have actually made blood covenants with any “forces,” but I’d bet it’s not many (and, it’s a legitimate spiritual pursuit if they want to — after all, we are guaranteed freedom of religion by the First Amendment).

It’s true that, once in a while, a young person commits violence. Occasionally, that violence is inspired by horror tales. But that’s because violent people occasionally enjoy horror tales — not because the horror tales somehow inspire the violence.

These are, unfortunately, the kinds of messages that can make some deeply religious people question or even fear teenagers — their own, or other people’s. Such questioning and fear leads these teens, who often already feel isolated and different (and therefore unaccepted, or unacceptable), to feel far worse about themselves. That can’t lead anywhere good. Parents and pastors who truly want to help these kids need to love them, listen to them, understand them, and meet them halfway, not put the Biblical smackdown on them when they’re already vulnerable.

Do you think horror fiction is unhealthy for teen audiences? Does it inspire criminal activity, or put their souls at risk? Does the South African girl really belong to a Satanic cult?

In Poland, Catholics go to war against Behemoth’s Nergal — for giving Satanism a voice


Catholic leaders in Poland took Nergal to court after he tore up a Bible on stage. Nergal won, but the fight isn’t over.

Catholic leaders in Poland, which has been a stronghold of Catholicism since World War II, have been on the warpath. Their target? Adam Darski, also known as Nergal, frontman for the Polish metal band Behemoth.

In 2007, a group called the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects circulated to political leaders a list of bands the committee claimed “promote Satanism.” The committee and its leader, Ryszard Nowak, hoped leaders would ban performances by these groups. They didn’t.

That same year, during a performance in the Polish city of Gdynia, Nergal destroyed a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

You can view the act, at roughly the 45-second mark, in this video:

You can’t hear about this without thinking of Sinead O’Connor tearing up a photograph of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992. Even in America, where such acts have been protected for centuries, O’Connor’s move touched off a major controversy that damaged her career permanently.

The All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects took Nergal to court over the Bible-tearing incident, claiming he “offended religious feeling.” On August 18 of this year, a Polish judge ruled that Nergal’s destruction of a Bible during a show was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style.

In a statement on the band’s web site, Nergal wrote, “I’m so glad to see that intelligence won over religious fanatics in my home country. Tho there’s still so much work to be done to make things right. But I’m sure that I’m on the right path to ultimate freedom! The battle is won, but the war ain’t over. Heil Satan!”

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Darski is starring in The Voice of Poland, a reality-TV show in which celebrities assist in the search for an outstanding singer. That offended Bishop Wieslaw Mering, head of the diocese of Wlocawek in northern Poland, who urged Polish television to pull the program from the air:

“A blasphemer, Satanist and lover of evil incarnate has the screen of public television at his disposal, and thus he will be able to spread his poisonous teachings more easily,” the bishop declared in a statement. “Non possumus! [This cannot be!].”

The Association of Catholic Journalists has circulated Mering’s statement.

Freedom of speech is a very new protection in Poland; censorship was abolished in 1990, while freedom of speech was officially added to the constitution in 1997. Freedom of religion, however, has been guaranteed by law in Poland since 1573. Of course, the same freedom of speech that protects Nergal’s right to criticize the Catholic Church also protects the Catholic Church’s right to criticize Nergal, his on-stage performances, and his negative views on Catholicism.

This whole situation is a reminder that, to many, Satanism is not a legitimate faith; it is one to be scorned, maligned, and silenced. Fortunately, Nergal is not backing down from the limelight. Particularly in his role on The Voice of Poland, he dresses pretty much like an everyday guy. Such visibility on what is likely to be a widely viewed television program, for someone who is a known Satanist, will hopefully show viewers that Satanists are normal, everyday people.

Readers, do you know any Satanists? What, if anything, have you learned about Satanism from spending time with them? Have your feelings on the faith changed because of it?

EDIT: As of October 17, Adam Darski has been forced to leave Voice of Poland. Read the update here: https://backwardmessages.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/satanic-singer-booted-from-polish-reality-tv-show/